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Local Nonprofit Offers Elite Soldiers a Much-Needed Break

Special Forces Association Chapter 28 will hold its annual fundraising banquet Sept. 22 in Whitefish

The brotherhood of special operations soldiers serving in the United States Army lasts a lifetime, thanks in no small part to volunteer-run groups like the Special Forces Association.

Created and organized by retired Special Forces soldiers (sometimes called Green Berets) to serve the women and men now in those roles, the association aims to better the lives of its members and active duty soldiers through four annual Montana respites, a scholarship program, support for ROTC groups, veteran services and more. The donor-funded organization will host its annual fundraiser Saturday, Sept. 22 at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake featuring a keynote address by retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Kenneth Tovo. The banquet includes a silent auction and awards presentation. Tickets are $100 per person or $680 for a table of eight.

Frank Curry is the president of Chapter 28, geographically one of the largest in the country with more than 80 total members hailing from Montana, Idaho, Washington and Wyoming. SFA Members are all retired Special Forces soldiers and pay $40 per year in dues to help support the national organization and their local chapter. But the larger contribution comes in volunteer hours spent creating and executing so-called respites for active service members and their families.

The quarterly respites, which the chapter has been sponsoring since it was re-chartered in 2002, offer all-expenses-paid vacations to a small number of Special Forces soldiers and their families. Those soldiers are chosen by their superiors, then flown to Montana from all over the country at the association’s expense and provided lodging, transportation and more during approximately one week stays. The getaways also include no-cost excursions for attendees like fly fishing trips, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, bus tours and more, depending on the season. Recent respites were held at the Ruby Springs Lodge in Sheridan, Flathead Lake Lodge (Bigfork), Bar W Guest Ranch (Whitefish) and Whitefish Mountain Resort. The respites serve more than 60 guests each year.

“Basically, they come in, we welcome them at the airport, get them in their rental cars … and then we get them out to their lodging,” Curry said. “We offer a menu and say ‘here’s what’s available for you’ and they can do as little or as much as they want. If they want to just relax, by all means, that’s what’s important.”

The respites are funded by the annual banquet, other private donations and some in-kind contributions. Donated funds are also used to provide scholarships for members’ relatives, ROTC shooting programs at four regional universities and other outreach.

“What we bring in is what we can do,” he said of the group’s fundraising, which brings in tens of thousands of dollars annually.

Curry did not take part a respite during his time in the Army but he was familiar with the SFA, and shortly after retirement he joined the group in 2008.   For the soldiers who are chosen to participate, Curry said, the respites are a much-appreciated getaway and chance for long-separated families to reacquaint themselves with each other.

“Most people can’t believe that somebody’s doing this, it’s a big event for them,” he said. “They come out here and it’s like ‘Wow,’ they totally relax, get off the grid and go out and do things.”

And while soldiers do get to spend some time each year at home with their families, the chance to experience a no-stress week like the one SFA provides is rare.

“A soldier, he’s gone eight or nine months during the year through different deployments and things, and then when he comes back he’s got a limited time at home before he goes again,” Curry said. “(At the respite) it’s just the family together, not all the distractions of modern life.”

For more information on Special Forces Association Chapter 28, to buy tickets to the annual banquet or to support the SFA in other ways, visit www.sfa28.org.

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